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Timeline of the American Founding

This timeline covers the period of from the end of the French and Indian War (1763) through George Washington’s First Inauguration (1789).

1763

Treaty of Paris ends French-Indian War

The end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) had two significant effects on Great Britain's relationship with her North American colonies: it opened up vast new areas of land for settlement, but it also left the empire with an enormous national debt.

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April 4, 1764

The Sugar Act

Hoping to raise enough money to at least defray the cost of defending the nation's expanded North American holdings, Parliament decided to replace the expiring Molasses Act with a lower tariff on sugar imported to the colonies. Although the tax was lower in fact than the tax they were supposed to have been paying on sugar imports previously, the colonists (who had previously benefited from relatively lax imperial tax collection policies) resented the new measure on principle.

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March 22, 1765

Stamp Act

In 1765 Parliament imposed the Stamp Act, which taxed everything from contracts to newspapers, stationary, playing cards, and dice. Americans rose up in indignation. Bad enough that this measure increased taxes and required payment in hard-to-find British currency.

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October 1765

Stamp Act Congress

October 19, 1765

Declaration of Stamp Act Congress

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March 5, 1770

Boston Massacre

December 16, 1773

Boston Tea Party

July 2, 1776

Declaration of Independence

In Jefferson’s notes on the debate in Congress over the Declaration, he gives a short account of how his draft of the Declaration was amended, afterwards recopying that first draft to show what he originally proposed.

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March 1781

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation created an “assemblage” of pre-existing states, as opposed to a government over, of, and by individuals. The states received equal representation in the confederation regardless of the size of population, and all governmental powers (legislative, executive, and judicial powers) were lodged in a single Congress. To act, Congress required a super majority of the thirteen states. Only amendments could endow the confederation with powers not expressly granted, and amendments required the approval of all thirteen state legislatures. Because of territorial disputes between two states, the Articles did not come into operation until March 1781.

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September 28 - 
October 19, 1781

Battle of Yorktown

In the fall of 1781, General Henry Clinton, British commander-in-chief for North America, ordered Lt. General Charles Cornwallis to fortify a port as a base for naval operations; Cornwallis chose the town of Yorktown on the Virginia Peninsula. When George Washington received news that a French fleet under had set sail for the Chesapeake, he and French Lieutenant General Rochambeau decided to march their armies from the vicinity of New York City all the way to Virginia. Leaving behind a small rear detachment to conceal their departure, their combined forces joined Lafayette at Yorktown in mid-September. After a three-week siege, Cornwallis accepted the inevitable and agreed to capitulate.

1787

Vices of the Political System of the United States, James Madison

Madison criticized the Articles because they lacked “the great vital principles of a Political Constitution,” namely, “sanction,” and “coercion.” The “evil” that alarmed him the most was that individual rights were being violated by unjust majorities in the state legislatures. Madison shifted the ground of the conversation over rights away from securing the rights of the people against the unrestrained conduct of monarchs and aristocrats to the then unfamiliar ground of securing the rights of minorities from omnipotent majorities. In the process, he questioned the efficacy of such traditional republican solutions as “a prudent regard” for the common good, “respect for character,” and the restraints provided by religion. Madison’s argument was that rights would not be secure until the constitutional protection the Articles gave to the state legislatures against federal intervention were removed. Madison felt the federal government needed this power to check factious or unjust laws. “A modification of the Sovereignty” was needed. The solution, said Madison, was to create an extended republic in which a multiplicity of opinions, passions, and interests “check each other.”

September 15, 1787

Constitution of the United States, drafted

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1787

Ratification Debates

The Federalist Papers were originally newspaper essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the pseudonym Publius, whose immediate goal was to persuade the people of New York to ratify the Constitution. Hamilton opened Federalist 1 by raising the momentousness of the choice that lay before New Yorkers and the American people as a whole. If Americans failed to deliberate and choose well, they would prove forever that humans are incapable of founding just and successful governments based on “reflection and choice” — that in fact, governments necessarily come into existence by “accident and force”. Publius also provides an outline of the topics to be covered in this series of newspaper articles as well as a not too subtle warning to be aware that the Antifederalists are really in favor of disunion.

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December 12, 1787

PA Ratifies the Constitution

1789

First Inaugural Address, George Washington

After praising the work of the Constitutional Convention and giving thanks to the “invisible hand” of Providence for directing the deliberations at the convention and the ratification process that followed it, Washington signaled his desire that the First Congress complete the Convention’s work, by adopting a bill of rights. Again, he referred Congress to a provision already made in the Constitution: the amendment process. Instead of speaking of particular rights needing protection, he spoke of a need to guarantee “the characteristic rights of freemen” without undermining the unity of the nation and the effectiveness of the federal government.

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